ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The messaging app Snapchat has been linked to deadly car crashes. The reason is a feature called the speed filter, which tracks your speed as you drive. Snap, the company that makes the app, has faced lawsuits over the filter, and it now says it's dropping the feature. NPR technology reporter Bobby Allyn broke this news. Hi, Bobby.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about how this filter works and why people use it.
ALLYN: Yeah. So many know Snapchat as the app, of course, that lets you chat with your friends in these fun, disappearing messages. And Snapchat has features in the photo sharing area where you could, you know, put on an animated pair of sunglasses when you're taking a selfie or capture how fast you're driving using your smartphone's GPS. But here's the problem with that, Ari. Some people turned the speed filter into a game by challenging each other to try to go more than a hundred miles per hour. And in cases from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to Florida, young drivers got into deadly car crashes while someone in the car was using this speed filter.
SHAPIRO: And now the company says it's dropping the feature completely. Do they say this is in response to the fatal crashes you're talking about?
ALLYN: Yeah. So the company made no reference to the crashes when it told me it's scrapping it. Instead, the company said, quote, "it's barely used by Snapchatters," suggesting there that, you know, it was dropped because it's unpopular. Snap has known about this problem, though, since, you know, at least 2015. And to discourage teens from using the filter to speed, Snap did make some changes. It posted a warning on the feature telling people not to snap and drive. And the company made it impossible to share a speed of over 35 miles per hour. It called that driving speed, and it made it, you know, impossible to share speeds with your friends over that limit. But now Snap says its feature will be gone for good. And Joel Feldman, who runs the End Distracted Driving nonprofit, says it's about time.
JOEL FELDMAN: Lives will be saved. Crashes will be prevented. The lawyer in me says, my God, why did it take them so long?
ALLYN: And, Ari, that's a good question. We don't know why it has taken so long. The company has never directly answered that. In their legal filings, Snapchat has said it fears a slippery slope, that if it removes one feature that's misused, where does it end? Might they start getting sued and pressured to drop other features that people misuse?
SHAPIRO: So you talk about these lawsuits. What happens to them now that the feature is gone?
ALLYN: Yeah. In recent years, at least 11 people have died in car crashes where the speed filter was suspected to have played a role. One of these cases involves the Wisconsin parents of two teen boys and a 20-year-old young man who all died in 2017 after their car lost control, and they crashed into a tree while one of them was using the speed filter. I talked to Mike Neff. He's a lawyer representing the family in this case, and he said Snap dropping the feature won't change the status of the lawsuits.
MIKE NEFF: All it does is eliminate an unnecessary risk for people on the roads today and tomorrow. What happened to the families whose lives have been forever changed is not mitigated or lessened because Snapchat made this choice.
ALLYN: Yeah. In response, Snapchat said the Wisconsin case is devastating and, quote, "nothing is more important than the safety of our Snapchat community."
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thank you.
ALLYN: Thanks, Ari.
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